Systemic racism is nothing new in America, and the effects of unconscious racial prejudice have long led to inequality in the workplace. So why do we – given the task of developing new “normal” hybrid jobs – allow the same systemic problems that have pushed generations of blacks and browns out of the workforce?
We must courageously face this problem by all means at our disposal while we still have this unique opportunity to lay the foundations of what will be built.
Statistics help tell the story of the stark differences in the economic status of black and white families. The typical black household makes only 57 cents for the dollar that white families make, and the average net worth of black families is only $ 17,000 – compared to $ 171,000 for white families. Black families also suffer from lower annual incomes, earning, on average, about $ 29,000 less than their white counterparts. Their children are three times more likely to grow up in poverty and remain poor all their lives. There is also a dire home ownership gap: only 42% of black families own a home compared to 73% of white families.
I recently shared this data with lawmakers serving on the Diversity and Inclusion Subcommittee of the United States House Committee on Financial Services. The hearing, “The Legacy of George Floyd: An Examination of Financial Services’ Obligations to Economic and Racial Justice” specifically addressed the negative economic impact of systemic racism in the financial services industry. Everything from biased lending practices to an imbalance in the distribution of philanthropic dollars has massive economic implications.
Equity cannot be fully achieved simply by donating money to outside partners like my organization, the National Urban League. While I’ll be the first to say the League and many of my colleagues are doing a great job in this area, too many companies rely on us alone to change the world.
Actions speak. Entrepreneurs need to help their employees attend proven training programs that reveal the real effects of their subconscious biases. Startups need to look inward and make sure their organizations are diverse, inclusive, and equitable places for employees and their customers.
However, this requires internal work. And in certain cases external voices. We have seen companies like Comcast NBCUniversal, Charter Communications and T-Mobile set up external diversity and inclusion councils with independent executives to advise and advance common goals.
Promoting Diversity, Justice and Inclusion (DEI) is right and moral not only for entrepreneurs. It also makes good business sense. Companies that value internal diversity are more profitable because they can more successfully cater to more diverse markets. Ethnically diversified companies are 36% more likely to outperform companies with less diversity.
Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted and profoundly changed many aspects of working life, including personal diversity training and staff development.
As more workplaces move to a hybrid model of remote and face-to-face work, it is time to take DEI off the back burner and rethink inclusion programs to incorporate cutting-edge technology to reach employees everywhere.
Businesses need to start now. But you don’t have to start from scratch. The resources are already in place and there are plenty of outside partners who can help improve corporate culture and diversity metrics. With a deep and nuanced understanding of the issues at stake, civil rights organizations are in a unique position to support the DEI management of companies through strategic advisory services, executive coaching, DEI technical expertise and the development and planning of DEI strategies. For example, we have the lessons we have learned in our 111 years of work connecting diverse communities with opportunities, and we incorporate those lessons into new technological advances to advise our partners.
Accordingly, groups such as the National Urban League have worked successfully with public and private partners on diversity, inclusion, fair employment, equity and parity. While these conversations can be difficult at times, companies that deliberately address these issues need to do so directly.
Here are some ways founders can introduce a more inclusive startup culture in a hybrid work environment.
VR training programs
Virtual reality technology is one of the latest additions to the DEI training toolbox to help ease these sometimes difficult discussions. With the help of virtual reality scenarios, a large group of people can be trained inexpensively.
By putting on a VR headset, individuals can partake in an immersive training experience where they can have a conversation about race and inherent biases without fear of judgment or reprisals.
For example, Moth + Flame, a Brooklyn-based virtual reality development and production studio, has developed successful DEI programs for the US Air Force and Accenture, where users enter a simulated real-world environment to accept difficult conversations with their own voice practice. This innovative technology offers a deep immersion that has a long-lasting emotional impact on employees.
The nice thing about VR is that it lends itself well to personal situations and can also be used effectively with remote workers. In a hybrid workplace, VR ensures that all employees have a uniform training experience – regardless of their location.
Professional and personal development programs
For America’s startups, programs can be developed to connect recruiting teams with traditionally black colleges and universities and other institutions that serve minorities. These programs include supported and hosted online job boards, career fairs, and people development initiatives.
But it’s not enough to just get different faces in the door – that’s just diversity. Founders need to invest in their colored workforce by enabling them to participate in educational programs to produce the next generation of leaders – that’s equity. This is even more critical with a dispersed workforce as the divide in employee experience can become even more pronounced with some groups working in the office and others staying away. Employees can feel left out, lonely or simply out of touch. Training programs encourage employee engagement and signal that the company is investing in their personal and professional growth regardless of location – that is inclusion.
Diversity of suppliers
The return to some level of in-office activity also comes with a return of dependency on suppliers – such as travel agents, catering providers, event production companies, and more. As companies look for new suppliers to build their new hybrid work environments, they should now work on creating a framework for building a diverse supplier network, reviewing current suppliers, and finding new suppliers.
In my experience, many companies repeatedly cite the difficulty of finding different suppliers as the main obstacle to promoting this diversity. To address the problem, BidConnect USA created a centralized business network platform that connects businesses and government agencies with small businesses, aggregates online events, and creates a tool for promoting ethical practices and economic integration.
Recognize, evaluate, measure
Without employees meeting in the same office day in and day out, it can be more difficult for employees to sense progress toward positive cultural change in the company. This is where numbers and accountability come into play.
Startups need to transparently determine which metrics they want to integrate in order to measure diversity in their organization. With justice becoming a higher priority than ever for employees, consumers, investors, and activists, there have never been greater risks and costs for delays or greater rewards and benefits for leadership.
The Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT) Black Equity at Work certification program enables employers to take rigorous action to minimize losses and maximize profits by ensuring great, sustainable advances in Black Equity and providing valuable recognition.
The MLT program is not another promise, index, or disclosure. It is a one of a kind upgrade system at an affordable price that includes a carefully developed rating section that quantifies all Black Equity progress; Planning resources and support that will enable employers to plan their own path on their schedule; a range of valuable services that ensure and accelerate results; as well as a high level of trust and the guarantee of strict confidentiality. Bringing tangible data together to measure progress toward diversity makes a significant contribution to shaping corporate culture.
Achieving full racial justice and inclusion will not be easy. It requires the firm commitment of all sectors of our civil society. Government agencies, startups, private and public corporations, and nonprofits alike must ask themselves uncomfortable questions, address inequalities head on, and resolve to change practices and policies so that all people have equal opportunities to live full and prosperous lives. With the right programs in the hands of committed employees, we may reach our goal a little faster.